In 2005 the Norwegian government introduced a unified policy towards released prisoners called the Reintegration Guarantee. Senior Advisor Inger Marie Fridhov of the Ministry of Justice explains: “Although it is not a ‘right’ in the legal sense, the Reintegration Guarantee is a commitment of all involved Ministries to provide ex-inmates the possibilities to be a responsible citizen.” The new strategy was designed with two purposes in mind. First to reduce recidivism and second to create better conditions for the released person.
A new philosophy
In practice, the Reintegration Guarantee entails that anyone who leaves prison or probation should be able to stand on their own and helped to obtain housing, work, school, health care and things such as debt counseling. “The effort requires a new mindset from the government,” says Inger Marie Fridhov. “It takes close cooperation to reach all released persons. Plus it was always assumed that the correctional services “own” the prisoner. This is the way the correctional services thought, and this is also how other authorities have thought. The Guarantee makes this way of thinking impossible. Now all levels of government and in fact the whole society has to take responsibility for reintegration. This is a big and important step towards a situation where inmates, equally with other citizens, get what they have a right to, concerning social benefits, school, housing etc..”
Working towards a better release
The guidance of the prisoners starts before their release. “One of the guiding principles of the Guarantee,” explains Inger Marie Fridhov, “is that the release becomes predictable. The inmate knows the date and time of the release but also what is waiting for the inmate with regard to housing, work, finances, education and health. 25 especially educated “release coordinators are working in the prisons to help the guards and others involved in the release-process. They work to establish all necessary contacts with the local authorities, who are and will be, responsible for the ex-inmate from the first day after release.”
Allocate tasks to appropriate services
It has become clear that the execution of the Guarantee is not easy. Inger Marie Fridhov refers to a recent study of the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research: “Not unexpectedly, they found that potential obstacles to full implementation of the guarantee are located at the legal level, the structural and organisational level, the financial level and at the human level. The attitudes towards convicts are not always favorable either. I believe, however, that the approach of the Reintegration Guarantee in fundamentally a good one. We share and transfer the responsibility to them who really are responsible to solve the problems. And lastly -but not unimportantly- we activate and help the prisoners to be the main actor in their own release.